HPV Vaccine Gardasil 9 for Boys

Gardasil 9 is a vaccine that protects against infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV), an organism that's spread through sexual contact. It replaced the original HPV vaccine, Gardasil, in May 2017.

Teenage boy (12-13) bracing himself for injection
FangXiaNuo / Getty Images

When the first Gardasil came out, it was recommended for girls and women primarily as a way to help prevent cervical cancer, one of several serious complications of HPV infection.

As researchers came to understand more about HPV, it became clear that the HPV vaccine not only helps to protect against cervical cancer but other cancers as well, including several that affect men.

What's more, the virus is spread through sexual contact, which means that a male who's infected with the virus can pass it along to another male or female sexual partner. For these reasons, the recommendations for who should get the HPV vaccine have expanded to include males.

HPV Infection in Boys

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 79 million people are infected with HPV.

There are many different strains of this virus. Not all cause cancer, and some cause no symptoms at all. Strains that do not cause cancer are classified as "low-risk" strains. Some types are responsible for genital warts, flesh-toned or gray growths that may be raised or flat. Strains HPV 6 and HPV 11 are responsible for 90% of all genital warts cases.

In males, the warts may appear on the penis, scrotum, testicles, anus, groin, or thighs. Genital warts can develop as single lesions or cluster together in growths that resemble cauliflower.

In most cases, there are no major health risks associated with genital warts, though they can be embarrassing and unsightly. Medical treatment is required to remove them, often requiring multiple visits.

Other strains of HPV can lead to considerably more serious health problems, including various types of cancer. In males, these include: 

Gardasil 9 protects against nine high-risk strains of HPV that are associated with genital warts and cancer: Types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

Vaccination Recommendations

According to the CDC, the ideal age for both girls and boys to receive the HPV vaccine is around 11 or 12. It may seem odd to give a shot designed to prevent a sexually transmitted infection to kids who are so young.

However, the vaccine is less effective people who have already been exposed to HPV, namely sexually active adults.

Also, the CDC reports that when the HPV vaccine is given during the preteen years, it produces a more robust immune response. The vaccine is prescribed as follows:

  • For children under 15, it is given as a two-dose series, with the first and second shot separated by six to 12 months.
  • People 15 to 26 are advised to get three doses of the vaccine, with one to two months between the first and second shot, and the third six months later. 

The 2020 HPV vaccination guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend routine HPV vaccination beginning at age 9. The ACS recommendation is intended to produce earlier vaccination rates overall. Although the vaccine is approved for use in people up to age 45, the ACS does not advise HPV vaccination for anyone over 26 as most people have been exposed to HPV by that age.

Side Effects

In clinical trials, Gardasil 9 has been found to be safe and effective, although it does have some potential non-serious, temporary side effects:

  • Pain, redness, and/or swelling at the injection site
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or joint pain

And there are some people who should not get the vaccine or may need to delay if ill. Your pediatrician, who will be aware of his medical history, will be able to advise you if there's any question about the safety of giving your child Gardasil.

Gardasil 9 should not be used in boys who are allergic to yeast or have a known severe allergy to latex. The vaccination should be delayed during moderate to severe acute illness, though minor illnesses generally do not pose a problem.

A Word From Verywell

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. While it usually goes away on its own, it can lead to genital warts (an emotionally distressing condition) and/or cancer, specifically anal, penile, and mouth/throat cancer in males, which are potentially life-threatening. Even though there is no treatment for HPV, you can be proactive and get your son vaccinated, protecting him (and future sexual partners) as best you can. 

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HPV infection fact sheet. Updated Aug. 2019.

  2. NYU Langone Health. Types of human papillomavirus.

  3. Saslow D, Andrews KS, Manassaram-baptiste D, et al. Human papillomavirus vaccination 2020 guideline update: American cancer society guideline adaptation. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020 Jul;70(4):274-280. doi:10.3322/caac.21616

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